What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 134 Stack Exchange communities.

The close dialog no longer contains this option:

Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Tell us what you've tried to do, why it didn't work, and how it should work.

This was probably the close reason I most commonly used after not a real question and too localized were removed.

Now consider this question: What is the output of the following c program?

It presents a small 15 line program and asks what the output is. It has received a large number of downvotes. It will serve no purpose for future visitors. I see no reason for it to remain on the site.

This has just been put on hold as too broad. This seems ridiculous to me. It's is not a broad question. It is a direct and exceptionally specific question. I posit that the voters picked too broad because they felt it should be closed, but could not find a good reason from the options available. But still picked one option even though it does not fit.

This presents a very bad picture to the asker. We are telling them the question is too broad but the exact opposite is the case.

What is the correct way for us to deal with a question of this nature. One that in days gone by would have been closed as too localized. Should we:

  1. Close it. And if so, using which reason.
  2. Leave it open and answer it.


My question here concerns just the question that was asked. I note that the question was closed before clarifying comments were added by the asker.

share|improve this question

closed as off-topic by bluet, gnat, Martijn Pieters, Azik, Emrakul Jan 23 at 17:22

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question pertains only to a specific site in the Stack Exchange Network. Questions on Meta Stack Exchange should pertain to our network or software that drives it as a whole, within the guidelines defined in the help center. You should ask this question on the meta site where your concern originated." – bluet, gnat, Martijn Pieters, Azik, Emrakul
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I would have gone for "unclear what you're asking" –  MattDMo Jan 10 '14 at 19:13
@MattDMo As written I don't see how it could be any clearer what was written –  David Heffernan Jan 10 '14 at 19:13
From one of the OP's comments he wants an explanation of exactly how the program (and, I assume, recursion) works, which really isn't at all clear if you just look at the question text. "Unclear" seems the best option that's left to us now that they've taken away "minimal understanding"... –  MattDMo Jan 10 '14 at 19:16
When I first read the question I thought the real question might be "how do I run a program if someone has given me source code" and then it appeared it was "please explain recursion to me" but it now seems to be "what is a function and how do values get to the parameters". Probably. All this means that the question eminently qualifies for Unclear What You're Asking. –  Kate Gregory Jan 10 '14 at 19:17
@MattDMo I'd rather concentrate on the question rather then the comments. –  David Heffernan Jan 10 '14 at 19:18
"This question was caused by a problem that can't be reproduced or a simple typographical error. While similar questions may be on-topic here, this one was solved in a manner unlikely to help future readers. This can often be avoided by identifying and closely inspecting the shortest program necessary to reproduce the problem before posting." (too localized v. 2.0) –  gnat Jan 10 '14 at 19:18
@gnat. No. That's not what that close reason is for. –  Robert Harvey Jan 10 '14 at 19:18
@DavidHeffernan: I'd rather concentrate on the question rather then the comments. -- That would be fine, if the posted question was actually what he wanted. –  Robert Harvey Jan 10 '14 at 19:19
@RobertHarvey agree, unclear is better in this case. I pointed out that too localized is back ("this one was solved in a manner unlikely to help future readers") –  gnat Jan 10 '14 at 19:20
@gnat: too localized is back -- Not really. That close reason is very specific. It's for questions where the OP said the code doesn't work, but it does; and questions where the problem was caused by a typo. Don't abuse this close reason to mean something else, or SE will take it away also. –  Robert Harvey Jan 10 '14 at 19:24
@RobertHarvey My point is not that I'm concerned about this particular question. I'm keen to get an understanding of the principles. –  David Heffernan Jan 10 '14 at 19:25
Have you seen jmac's jigsaw puzzle analogy? I thought that was a pretty good take on the principles. –  Josh Caswell Jan 10 '14 at 19:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

It probably is too broad. But that's really a secondary problem.

As-asked, the answer to the question is 8. That's easy for anyone to determine, and also too short to even be posted on Stack Overflow. You have to assume that the asker either wants something else (but didn't state it) or is trolling. So, Unclear.

As Robert noted, the asker wants someone to run the program on paper for him. Asking someone to sit down and walk you through a specific assignment when you have no idea what (if anything) they know is akin to requesting an introductory programming tutorial. "How do I run a program on paper?" might've been a useful question though.

To answer the question you asked in the title, "very localized" is a hard call to make when invalidating a question: Stack Overflow has an insanely broad audience, and it never ceases to amaze me how many obscure or code-specific questions are found useful by others. I try to avoid predicting whether or not most questions will be found useful by others anymore... That said, there are a class of questions that we've repeatedly found to be a waste of space: those that were solved by a simple typographical fix or were solved by changes outside the scope of the question itself ("I rebooted and the problem went away"). There's a new off-topic reason for these.

share|improve this answer
FWIW, I edited the question to more clearly reflect what is being asked (I think). I'm unsure about reopening it, but I think I captured the OP's intent better. –  Geobits Jan 10 '14 at 19:40
@Shog9 Thanks for this answer. That helps me. Is there a canonical reference Q here on meta for the recent close reason changes? –  David Heffernan Jan 10 '14 at 19:41
There will be, when I get a few minutes free @David (I'm writing this while on the phone; last few days have been ridiculously busy I'm afraid). For now, this post covers most of my rationale. –  Shog9 Jan 10 '14 at 19:44
@Shog9: You're pretty skillful with that phone. I personally couldn't do it, especially on a moving train, or even walking. –  Robert Harvey Jan 10 '14 at 19:48

It's Too Broad. Look at this comment, which says:

i want proper explanation of program, how function is called and give output. And i know how to run this program in C but i want know how to answer it on paper without run on C

That's a request for tutoring. Too broad.

If you want to close it just on the original question's merit, you can use Unclear What you are Asking in this case. Why? Because it is trivially answerable by running the program, so we don't actually know why they are asking the question.

share|improve this answer
Yes, but that is not in the question. That is in a comment. I'd like to concentrate on the question. The question was closed before that comment appeared. –  David Heffernan Jan 10 '14 at 19:19
We can consider a theoretical question identical to this one with no comments if needs be –  Richard Tingle Jan 10 '14 at 19:20
@David Really? That's pretty cool. Crystal-ball closing. –  Robert Harvey Jan 10 '14 at 19:20
@RichardTingle That would be best. The SO question is an example of a principle. –  David Heffernan Jan 10 '14 at 19:20
@DavidHeffernan: See my edit. –  Robert Harvey Jan 10 '14 at 19:22
@RobertHarvey OK, your final paragraph gives me what I am looking for. You do agree that the question should be closed right? –  David Heffernan Jan 10 '14 at 19:24
All of this "but you must have done .... so we can infer .... so we can use .... to close the question" is feeling increasingly like we're all going to need stack exchange lawyers to get anything done because its all interpretation based –  Richard Tingle Jan 10 '14 at 19:25
Interestingly, it appears that Shog disagrees with you Robert –  David Heffernan Jan 10 '14 at 19:28
The question was already closed; I didn't feel that further action was needed (especially given the OP's stated intent). But a change to the closing system occurred recently, Shog9 wanted to be specific, and I did mention that close reason in my answer. There's no ambiguity here; we're both in perfect agreement. –  Robert Harvey Jan 10 '14 at 19:34
My "Shog disagrees with you" comment was not meant critically. I agree that no further action is needed on this SO Q. And I understand that Shog did what he did as a response to this meta Q. So, that comment I made was all about trying to understand the big picture. I think I'm getting there now. Thanks!! –  David Heffernan Jan 10 '14 at 19:39
@RichardTingle: If you look at any vague, underspecified, lazy question riddled with spelling errors, I think you will find that it almost always very cleanly fits into either "Too Broad" or "Unclear What You are Asking". –  Robert Harvey Jan 10 '14 at 19:41

I had a question closed for that reason, but the question was all over the net without an answer. As a n00b to programming and this style of forum, I find that very discouraging. It's hard enough talking about code across The Internet, and when you have dumb questions, you need to ask them somewhere.

share|improve this answer
(1) Stack Overflow is meant to be a Q&A site, not a forum (just wanted to get that out of the way first). (2) Part of the idea behind using "unclear what you're asking" and "too broad" more is that if there's an issue, you need to be able to break it down into something small, and be able to clearly state what the problem is. A lot of beginner questions get a bad rep because they fall under one of those two. –  Dennis Meng Jan 11 '14 at 1:04
^^ Exactly. And then and then all you do is chase people away. I mean look at my answer/comment... -2! –  allanonmage Jan 13 '14 at 14:25
@allanonmage If you visit a blog, you have to comply to its owners commenting policy. It the owner doesn’t like your comments, they don’t get published or they get deleted later. You can make an objection, try to change owner’s mind, but it’s the owner’s decision whether the content in question is appropriate or not. It is his/her right. Here, the (site content’s) owner is community. If you refuse to become its part (by refusing its policies), why not move elsewhere, where your contribution might be appreciated? meatballwiki.org/wiki/RightToLeave –  Palec Feb 23 '14 at 3:43

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .